Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Bicycle Lighting

Over the last several years, cycling has witnessed a sort of lighting arms race, with brightness now measured in hundreds of lumens. I'm sure that by now some company has broken the kilolumen barrier. It's gotten to the point where many morning Freds ride around with lights on their helmets whose brightness rivals Hollywood premiere search lights. If several Freds are riding in a pack, it can look pretty much like this image from the 1940 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.

To make matters worse, riders wearing these photonic cannons think nothing of looking at other people passing by, briefly searing their retinas and rendering them momentarily blind. This is far from a good thing when you are riding on a multi-use path with other cyclists, joggers, pedestrians and the occasional dog, who have suddenly become invisible to you.

These multi-hundred dollar portable searchlights have their uses off-road, where there is little other natural light to light the way. They really have little, if any, use on bike paths or city streets. I can understand the desire to see and be seen, but I doubt riders with such headlamps are increasing their safety on surface streets when they blind drivers in two-ton metal cages either.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Well, that was an adventure

The Base Two Cycle Club in Evanston does a pancake run a few times a year, riding from Evanston to Algonquin, eating breakfast at Bella's Short Stack before returning. Round trip is about 95 miles. One such ride was planned for Labor Day, and I rode for the first time. I still don't know the exact distance, however, as you will soon see.

The forecast showed a reasonable chance for rain, so I decided to ride my fixed gear commuter, an old Trek 520 set up with Schwalbe Kojak tires (700x35). Plush. As I knew I would be slower than the rest of the group, I planned to leave a bit early. I checked my mail before I left around 5:20. Nothing. I then checked it again when I got to the meeting point about 5:35. There was this rather ominous mail from Ed Reed saying, "Consider there are many hills west of long grove." I thought, "crap," but responded, "A bit late for that now. I'm not too period [sic] to walk a few.... Wave as you go past." (I include my smart ass phone's spell correction for proud...)

As I'm riding along I'm a bit worried. I've done the Dairyland Dare a few times and used to live west of Albany, NY where every ride was a hill ride, unless you took NY Route 5 to Amsterdam, right along the Mohawk River. I didn't know we even had hills in Illiniois. Maybe the Driftless Zone got close to Chicago? I plowed on, doing mental calculations about my current gearing, what I rode on the Dare this year, and figuring I would surely be walking up some hills. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Fate had other plans for me. I did do some walking, but it was on mostly level ground. The hills were more more like bee stings, bumps just big enough to obscure your vision.

Well into the ride, a bit west of Lake Zurich, I flatted. I hadn't been running with sealant in these tubes and didn't have any with me, but I had the usual cornucopia of tube, pump, tire levers (not needed), and 15mm wrench. A couple messy minutes later (I forgot to pack disposable gloves), I had my wheel off and my brand new tube out ready to install. Put a little air into it to puff it up a bit. Sssssss... Try again. Again, with the snake imitation. Not being completely insane, I did something different the third time and listened for where the air was leaking out. Crap. A brand new tube with a leak. "Kenda, never again." I might have that tattooed on my ankle. Or copyright the phrase and reap millions from copyright infringement lawsuits. Or submit a suggestion for a new definition to the OED folks, something like "Kenda (n) - cycling products which rarely work, and never when you really need them." Whatever will keep me from ever buying any of their products again.

At this point, all I could do is wait for another bikie to to come along with a tube. I didn't have to wait more than a couple minutes before I saw three bikes approaching. I hailed them and they pulled over. One of them gave me a tube (brand new Bontrager still in its box). I noticed one of the other guys looked familiar. It was my dentist, Paul Fischl. In my surprise to see him so far from my home (but quite likely much closer to his), I forgot to inspect his bike to see if was full dentist.

They went on their way and I resumed messing around with my rear wheel. I installed the tube, pumped up the tire, and was just about to pull out, when who should I see but the Base Two folks heading west? "Hi!" "Hi!" And they were gone. I didn't worry about it, I hadn't expected to keep up with them anyway. I was only about 12 miles away from breakfast. Surely I would get there while they were still downing mountains of pancakes.

But no... In fairly short order (maybe another mile or two), I got a second flat. I tried pumping it up. This got me a quarter mile or so further. Lather, rinse, repeat a couple times. To preserve some semblance of sanity, I stopped doing that and started walking west. Google told me I was several miles from the nearest bike shop (and would it even be open on a holiday?), so I decided to call it a day and give Ellen a call. She kindly offered to meet me at Bella's to give me a ride home. With a verbal guarantee of a ride home ringing in my ears, I turned right at Ridge Rd and kept walking. Not paying close (or, apparently, any) attention, I missed the turn-off for Spring Creek Rd and continued walking to W. County Line Rd, where I discovered my mistake. While not terribly busy, it's not the best bike road in the world (no shoulder and speeding cars, obviously with very important places to be on a Labor Day morning). Consequently, I didn't see any other bikes until I got to Meadow Hill Rd. At this point, a guy riding a beautiful blue and white Dave Tesch stopped. I was so floored by his bike that the first thing out my mouth wasn't, "Buddy, can you spare a tube?" Rather it was "Wow! You're riding a Tesch!" I eventually came to my senses though, and he gave me a tube, pointed me in the direction of Spring Creek Rd, and went on his way, north on Meadow Hill.

This is the point in the story where tire size becomes important. Recall that I was riding 35mm tires (very comfy, and, evidence suggests, without sacrificing rolling resistance). Both tubes I had been given were of the narrow-as-a-straw variety, however. I pulled the now flat tube. Still thinking that I must have missed a piece of glass in the tire, I inflated the tube a bit to see where it was leaking. Lo and behold, it was leaking around the valve stem. Only then did it dawn on me what probably happened. When I pumped the tire up, the reinforced area of the tube around the valve stem resisted expansion, leaving the area right around the valve stem poorly supported by the rim. Tightening the valve stem nut pulled the tube down to the rim, and caused a leak around the valve stem in short order.

Lesson learned, I didn't pump up the tire as much this time, and also resisted tightening the little presta valve nut too much. Perhaps better would have been to spin on the valve stem nut before mounting the tube to provide support from the rim without demanding the valve stem area expand much. At any rate, the new tube held this time and I was able to make it the rest of the way into Algonquin for my now (I think) well-deserved breakfast. But... Not before I passed the Base Two gang headed home after their own well-deserved repast. Another couple waves. A few minutes later I arrived at Bella's Short Stack, which despite its name, doesn't feature 37 varieties of pancakes on its menu, just buttermilk. Pass the syrup, please...

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Aero Bars and Traffic Don’t Mix

I routinely commute between Evanston and Chicago’s Loop. Most days, a good chunk of the ride is on the Lakefront Trail. Now that the weather has warmed up, I no longer have LFT to myself. In particular, the triathletes are back.

I have no problems with triathlons. I think it’s a fine activity. However, I do have a problem with people who insist on riding in their aero tuck in congested traffic. I see people on their tri bikes tucked and hammering quite often these days. This morning (the straw which broke this camel’s back), I encountered an apparent novice triathlete wobbling along at speed, navigating through congestion which included not only me, but a couple joggers. The four of us were about to meet at roughly the same point. I had no problem slowing down, and at least one of the joggers would have been able to see the other rider. I’m sure she processed what was about to happen as well, but all she could do was plow through.

Unless an aero-bar-equipped bike is set up as a fixie (highly unlikely), there is no way to stop quickly. I don’t know how dicey it is to get in and out of the aero position, but it’s certainly going to slow down your move to the brakes in an emergency. Please, if you are a triathlete, don’t use your aero bars in congested situations. Tell your tri-friends as well.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Come on People!

I had a nice early morning bike ride today with some bike buddies, then stopped at the house to grab my bag, switch bikes (not sure why), then ride to work. I’m normally a pretty early morning rider, frequently getting to work before 7am. Today, I was riding through Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood right around 8am. Lots of cars. Lots of bikes.

My gripe today is with the people on the bikes. Start acting like grown-ups. I don’t care if you run every red light and stop sign as long as you a) don’t take the right-of-way from someone, and b) pay attention to what bikes ahead of you are doing.

Right of Way

If you get to a four-way stop or a red light and nobody is there, I won’t quibble with you blowing through the intersection. If there’s a kid trying to cross the street to get to school, or if there are cars with the right-of-way, you damn well better stop. If the way I saw people riding this morning is any indication, I think there are a lot of lawyers specializing in drawing up wills who should be advertising into the cycling community.

Bikes Stopped Ahead of You

For crying out loud, people! If another bike has seen fit to stop at an intersection or crosswalk, they probably did it for a good reason! Maybe you won’t be happy until you cream some kid on his way to school? Think of a bike stopped ahead of you as a second set of eyes (and a second brain, because obviously many of you aren’t using the one you’ve got). Listen to what he’s saying by stopping.

No wonder drivers hate us.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Equipment Check - Siva Cycle Atom

I purchased a Siva Atom via their Kickstarter campaign.  My main goal was to use it on long rides where I want to run a GPS app on my phone within sucking the battery dry.  I don't intend to use it to power lights.  It took them longer to get to production than they originally anticipated.  I took delivery on my Siva in late November 2014, just as winter got started.  Consequently, it sat on my workbench until a couple weeks ago.

I mounted it on one of my bikes (a Giant FCR3).  It took all of about five minutes to mount.  Like most modern bikes, the Giant has vertical dropouts, so all I needed to do was remove the rear skewer, wiggle the rear wheel out far enough to slip the dyno over the left side of the axle, wiggle it back, then replace the skewer.

In the time since I first installed it, I probably rode that bike to work (1+ hour one way) five or six times.  Assuming the dyno was putting out juice, the little battery pack in the Siva should be very well charged.  Other than a little bit of "notchiness" felt and sound heard when walking the bike, I couldn't tell the Siva was doing anything.  Once riding at a very low speed (couple mph?), I can't tell that it's there.  Of course, I'm getting to be an old fart, so my hearing isn't what it used to be.

A few days ago, I swiped a horrible mounting bracket from my wife's bike (well, "swiped" is kind of a strong word - she didn't like it one little bit and told me I could take it), slapped it on my Giant, then zip-tied a USB cord to my top tube and plugged in the phone.  Nothing.  "Damn," I thought.  "Oh well, nice experiment."  I turned on My Tracks to guarantee the phone was doing something marginally useful (though I do know how to get to work) and battery consuming as I rode.  Once I got the bike rolling, the phone started charging, as evidenced by the lightning bolt battery icon.  Whew!  Apparently, the little battery pack on the Siva won't discharge through the USB connector, only through its own USB port.  I will have to confirm that with the Siva folks.

Midway through the ride, I checked and the little lightning bolt icon had disappeared from my phone's display.  "Damn," I thought.  "Oh well, nice experiment," and continued on to work.  When I got near work I stopped just short of the office so My Tracks wouldn't spazz out when the GPS satellites disappeared behind the tall buildings.  I noticed the screen said, "fully charged," and when I unplugged the USB cable from the phone, the little green light behind the speaker turned off.  So, all was well on that front too.  Looks like the phone's charging circuitry disconnected itself from the 5v power once the battery was fully charged.  To be fair, the phone had been connected to a power source overnight, so it was already at 98% when I started out.

The phone was in a somewhat lower state of charge when I rode home.  On the ride home, the phone started out at 81%, ended at 92%.  Again, this was with My Tracks running.

After another day, I purposely left my phone disconnected from the charger last night.  When I took off this morning the battery charge was at 7%.  I didn't run My Tracks on the ride in this morning.  When I got to work, it was at 19%.  Fairly reasonable, though I was hoping for a bit more out of a one-hour ride.

So far, I'm happy with the Siva.  I haven't used it enough to really test its robustness, and haven't really tried it in wet weather.  If you're a dedicated dynohub person, I'm sure it won't be for you.  For someone like me who uses (recharegable or USB) battery lights, the Siva looks like a decent option.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Hot and Cold

Here in the midwest we are experiencing what the good folks in Lake Wobegone would term a “mild cold snap.” Not being as stoic as the citizens of that town on the edge of the prairie, the cold necessitated a bit more care in my kit the past few days.

I have neoprene booties on my shoes and use bar mitts on my handlebars, so both my toes and fingers are pretty well protected from the cold and wind. Still, without a little care, I will experience cold toes and/or cold fingers. Something dawned on me on the ride home yesterday. If my fingers get cold, I can push a bit harder and generate more heat. Then my fingers warm up. My toes might now be cold, though. I think that’s because the extra effort pushes my toes into the front of my shoe, reducing blood flow. I can focus on pulling more on the backstroke, reducing pressure on my toes (and increasing pressure on my heels), increasing blood flow to my toes, and they warm up. Alas, now I’m using my quads less and my (weaker) hamstrings more, so I don’t generate as much heat, and my fingers start to get cold again.

Yesterday I failed to find a happy medium. It looks like I need to develop my hamstrings more so they are capable of warming my fingers by themselves.

Monday, January 05, 2015


I love to ride my bikes (I have several). Some things that make me happy (there are many more):

  • Watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan
  • The momentary connection with a teenager I see practicing track stands
  • A quick wave to drivers who yield the right-of-way
  • The money I save when I don’t take the train to work
  • The countdown on the last few days before reaching 5,000 miles for the year
  • Working on my bikes

For all that, there are some things I don’t like. Scary stuff happens pretty frequently. I don’t like not being able to share the entirety of my bike experience with my lovely wife, simply because some of the things I might want to share would scare the bejeebers out of her. Like the near misses. Or the stories of other cyclists who have been maimed or killed by cars.

This all came into focus recently when I read about the death of Tom Palermo, a framebuilder in Baltimore, MD. Several aspects of the tragedy seemed eerily similar to those related to the death of Bobby Cann here in Chicago:

  • Both drivers had previous alcohol-related brushes with the law.
  • Both cyclists were struck from behind.
  • Both incidents occurred during the daytime on straight streets with plenty of visibility.

I went back and read the Chicago Reader article carefully (I don't recall seeing it before), and was struck by something. Ryne San Hamel, the driver accused of killing Bobby Cann, not only had two DUI arrests within a year as an underage (18-19yo) drinker ten years before, both cases had been plea bargained down to almost nothing, in exchange for seemingly hefty fines. From the article:

It seems one key to getting off easy is being arrested in the suburbs. "A lot of times, the village attorneys are just out to make money for the village," [Cathy] Stanley [court watch director for the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists] claims. In plea deals, village attorneys can reduce charges or overturn license suspensions in exchange for adding hefty fines, Stanley says. Prosecutors in the state's attorney's office, by contrast, "work much harder getting convictions."
The village attorney dropped the misdemeanor DUI charge, and San Hamel paid a $1,886 fine for making an improper turn. As part of the plea bargain, he also attended DUI school and completed one year of court supervision. The improper-turn citation was dropped too.

So we have what appears to be a significant conflict of interest on the part of the village attorney where this case was adjudicated, and probably for other city, town, county, and village attorneys all across the state. In exchange for a hefty fine (which almost certainly went into the village coffers, not into some sort of DUI fund), San Hamel never served a day in jail, and it appears he never lost his license. Furthermore, those two arrests were expunged from his record, so that in 2013, the police investigating the death of Bobby Cann initially only saw a ticket San Hamel had received for running a red light in 2010. They had no idea he was a multiple repeat offender.

It seems to me that local prosecutors should not have as much discretion as they do. They thwart the laws passed by the legislature in exchange for a few shekels added to their cities’ coffers. Wouldn't it be better to set up a system where local prosecutors are incentivized to pursue convictions instead of plea bargains? Perhaps the state should reward local jurisdictions monetarily for DUI convictions to remove the incentive to abrogate state law.